On November 5, voters approved general obligation bonds of $14 million for a city operated 24-7 homeless shelter that will house upwards of 300.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week facility to temporarily shelter the homeless within the city as critical toward reducing the number of homeless in the city. The city owned shelter would assist an estimated 300 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility would serve all populations, men, women, and families, and offer what Keller calls a “clearing house” function.
The city facility would have on-site case managers that would guide residents toward addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. According city officials, the new homeless shelter would replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side. The former jail is so remote that the city must bus homeless to the facility and back at a cost of $1 million annually.
According to Mayor Tim Keller, the new homeless shelter will provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter on so-called “down-and-out” calls. Many “down and outs” today wind up in the emergency room even when they are not seriously injured or ill. According to city officials, only 110 of the 6,952 “down and out” people were taken by first responders to the Emergency Room in a recent one-year period had life-threatening conditions.
According to a December 15 news article, the City has revealed 5 potential locations for the centralized emergency shelter for the homeless:
1.The old Lovelace hospital on Gibson
2.University of New Mexico property near Lomas and Interstate 25
3. Montessa Park, south of the Sunport
4. An area near Second and Interstate 40
5. Continue to use the old West Side Jail 20 miles outside the city limits and build new facilities at that location.
City officials stress that nothing is set in stone and is asking the public to provide their own suggestions for where the shelter should be located.
CITY SURVEY EXPANDS ON NUMBER OF LOCATIONS
The Keller Administration has set up an online survey that people can give input on where the 24-7 city homeless shelter should be built. There are only two specific places on the survey where the $30 million homeless shelter is being suggested to go. Those two areas are the area of 2nd Street at I-40 near downtown and a large empty lot that borders the UNM Health Sciences Center.
The city’s other options for the shelter in the survey are very broad and include the northeast heights, the south valley area, and the north valley area. There are only 5 questions on the survey. The first question on the survey is as follows:
1.What is your location preference for the new Homeless Shelter?
I-40 and Second Street Area
Other location in Downtown Area
UNM Health Sciences Center south of the State Laboratory
Northeast Heights Area
North Valley Area
Southeast Heights Area
South Valley Area
Current Location (Westside Center/Former Bernalillo County Jail)
Other location in the Westside Area
Other – Please provide suggestions for a location in box below
Other – Please provide suggestions for a location:
The survey can be found and be taken by clicking on the below link:
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL SAYS KELLER SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF HIMSELF
On December 23, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial entitled “Keller must reverse course on his shelter bait and switch”. The Journal excoriated Keller in no uncertain terms for including the Westside jail on the list of shelter locations being considered. The Journal pointed out that Keller campaigned aggressively to get the $14 million in bonds past for a new location saying the west side jail was not sustainable and there was a need for a centralized location in the city for the homeless to be able to easily get services they need. The Journal went so far as to say “Keller ought to be ashamed of himself”. You can review the entire editorial in the postscript below that also has a link to the editorial.
NOT IN MY BACKYARD (NIMBY)
On December 20, a KRQE News 13 investigative report uncovered emails that show the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the University of New Mexico Cancer Center are at odds over where the City of Albuquerque’s homeless shelter should be built. The emails obtained show groups representing both do not want the shelter to be built near them. In an email, chamber leaders make it clear they want the homeless shelter to go near the UNM Health Sciences center and ask people to vote for that location on the city survey.
There are proposed locations near downtown, but having the homeless shelter there does not fit with the Chamber’s vision of what downtown should be. The Chamber has said through a spokesperson that the homeless dissuades people from going downtown.
Norm Becker, who works for the Chamber of Commerce and leads a team trying to make downtown more appealing, was interviewed and said he thought the homeless downtown is the biggest problem in making downtown more attractive. He also said the University of New Mexico Health science location is the best location and not downtown and said:
“If it was downtown, the access to services, the behavioral health services, and the mental health services don’t exist downtown. They exist at the UNMH health sciences center. … I think if [UNMH] saw what I saw they would say this is not only good but it’s better than what we have today, even if it is in my backyard. … I didn’t say I didn’t want it downtown. There’s no place to put it downtown.”
Another email uncovered was written by the head of the UNM Cancer Center, Dr. Cheryl Willman. She says many of the 400 doctors and staff are concerned about the homeless shelter bordering their offices. According to Willman, they don’t know the homeless shelter design or what access to it will be like and it could cause safety issues to the hospital employees.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The single most controversial bonds on the November 5 ballot were the $14 million in bond money designated for a centralized, 24-hour, 7 day a week homeless shelter. Mayor Tim Keller since day one of becoming Mayor has made it a top priority. The shelter is controversial not because it’s needed but because established businesses, neighborhoods and many charitable homeless providers object to the location or the need for a centralized facility somewhere in downtown. Opposition arguments range from negative impacts on well-settled business areas, residential areas, increases in crime, reducing neighborhood safety to cost justification. One major argument is that there are too many charitable and private homeless providers clutered to each other or too close to downtown. It’s the classic case of “not in my back yard” (NIMBY).
The city did not identify a location for the shelter until after voters approved the funding, no doubt for fear that the bonds may fail. It is very disappointing, but typical, that the city was not upfront on the locations being considered so that a more informed decision could have been made by the voting public. Notwithstanding locations are now being discussed.
THE NEED EXISTS
Each year the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help understand the extent of homelessness at the city, state, regional and national levels. The PIT count represents the number of homeless people who are counted on one particular night. This year, the count in Albuquerque was made on January 28, 2019. According to the 2019 Point-In-Time count, there are 1,524 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people counted in Albuquerque. Government agencies and nonprofits report that the city’s homeless numbers are greater than the 1,524 found by “a point in time survey” and the number of homeless in Albuquerque approaches 4,500 in any given year. The Keller Administration estimates that 5,000 households will experience homelessness over the course of a given year in Albuquerque.
According to some reports, approximately 80% of the cities chronic homeless are suffering from mental illness. The city does provide extensive services to the homeless that include social services, mental or behavioral health care services, substance abuse treatment and prevention, winter shelter housing, rent assistance and affordable housing development, just to mention a few. But more needs to be done by the city to reduce the ever-increasing numbers. The only way the city is going to be able to reduce the number of homeless in the city is to reach a viable consensus and implement an aggressive plan on how to reduce the number of homeless. This will mandate the city to work with virtually all the charitable providers, “pooling of resources” and work to get input from the public as to final location.
Major issues that will no doubt be up front and center as Mayor Tim Keller seeks a second term in 2021 include the city’s murder, violent crime and property crime rates, the DOJ consent decree reforms not fully implemented, the failed disastrous ART Bus project that Keller embraced and completed that has now destroyed historical Route 66 and Mayor Keller signing off on a $55 million dollar tax increase without a public vote as he promised.
Remember, the ART Bus Project was called by the City Council as Mayor RJ Berry’s project and they went along with it. The 24-7 homeless shelter will be viewed as Keller’s project and like with the ART Bus project the City Council is likely to go along with putting it where ever Keller wants it. There is no doubt as the debate rages on where to put the Keller 24-7 City Homeless Shelter, there is a likelihood a large segment of the voting public will get upset, no matter how necessary the shelter is needed. What is also likely is that the shelter may not be built until the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021, just in time as the 2021 race for Mayor begins to heat up, which is what happened with the ART Bus construction project.
Many will be watching exactly what is Mayor Tim Keller’s preferred location for the shelter which is the location likely the City Council will adopt. If not handled properly by building a consensus, Mayor Tim Keller will be adding the location of the 24-7 city homeless shelter location he has advocated since being elected to the list of issues that could conceivably divide large segments of the city and deprive him of a second term. Being accused of “bait and switch” by the Journal does not help.
Below is the Albuquerque Journal editorial published on December 23:
Editorial: Keller must reverse course on his shelter bait-and-switch
BY ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD
When Mayor Tim Keller spent months earnestly explaining how Albuquerque needed to do more to address the rising tide of homelessness in the city, people listened.
That was in part because of the very public nature of the issue, especially to those who live and work near places like Coronado Park. But it was also in part because the mayor and his staff made a clear, logical and compelling argument as to why the resources currently available to homeless people were not getting the job done, and why the city-owned Westside Emergency Housing Center past the west edge of Petroglyph National Monument is not a long-term viable option due to its distance from the city center.
In the run-up to the November election – in which voters ultimately approved a bond package that included $14 million for a centralized homeless shelter – some people were nervous that we didn’t know where Keller’s new shelter would be.
But we always knew where the shelter would not be.
At least, we thought we did. Now, voilÃ, in a magical post-election specialty – the New Mexico bait-and-switch dinner hour, your choice of chile on the side – the Westside shelter is back on the table for the forthcoming “Gateway Center.”
According to a Dec. 15 story by Journal reporter Pilar Martinez, city officials revealed the possibility when presenting four other potential sites. City spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said the city already owns the shelter property, and if there is strong support for that location, it would be considered.
Keller ought to be ashamed of himself.
For months, he and his staff have been on a media blitz that in no small part involved a detailed cataloging of the Westside shelter’s shortcomings: It’s not within walking distance from services homeless people need like bus lines, government agencies, the VA Medical Center and more. Taxpayers spend about $1 million each year to pay for shuttles to run to and from the shelter – and it’s a long ride many don’t want to take. It’s also too far for police and/or ambulance drivers to drop people off for a safe place for a night.
The problems were real six months ago, they’re real today, and they are a large part of why the Journal Editorial Board supported and endorsed Keller’s ask of $14 million from taxpayers for what’s described as phase one of the shelter.
It has always been clear the mayor and city staff are in for a NIMBY battle over the shelter’s placement. While many want to help folks get off the street, few want such a shelter next door to their homes and workplaces. But if you truly want to serve the homeless by setting up a shelter near bus lines, near government agencies, near the places they want and need to be – and the mayor says he does – the prospective list of locations gets very short indeed.
In coming weeks, there will be plenty of discussion about the pros and cons of the other potential locations under consideration (the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson, an area near Second and Interstate 40, a parcel of University of New Mexico land near Lomas and Interstate 25, and Montessa Park south of the Sunport). That’s as it should be, and the mayor should expect a lively debate and considerable push-back.
But it’s unacceptable to bait the election hook with the Westside’s inherent flaws, only to flip-flop once the bond approval is in hand.
Keller should quickly and publicly take the Westside center off the table – or risk gaining a reputation that may come back to haunt him next time he comes to taxpayers’ well with his pail in hand.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
For a related blog article see: